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The Top 10 Hip-Hop Albums of All Time

Posted in music, top 10 lists with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on Tuesday, 2010 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

Narrowing down the Best Hip-Hop Albums of All Time to ten is a challenge. If you search the internet and ask all your friends, you will likely get a lot of similar lists (but there will always be differences and debates). In fact, there could probably be a great top 10 list of incredible rap albums that were left off the list below (hence the 15 honorable mentions). Choosing only ten was difficult enough, so these are not ranked and appear chronologically.

Public Enemy – It Take a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988)
Please disregard any list of the best hip-hop albums of all time if this isn’t on it. Nothing ever sounded like this before, and only a few imitators and some other Public Enemy albums sounded like it after. “Bring the Noise” wasn’t just a song title, it was a mission statement. The music, the lyrics, the message, Chuck D’s clear delivery: this was an album that simply couldn’t be ignored.

De La Soul – 3 Feet High and Rising (1989)
While Buhloone Mindstate or Stakes Is High might be their “better” album, there’s a reason “3 Feet High and Rising was and still is hailed as a classic. They made it cool to be peaceful and artsy. For better or worse, they practically invented the hip-hop skit and certainly broke ground by sampling off the beaten path stuff like Steely Dan and French language instructional tapes.

A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory (1991)
Straight-up beats, rhymes, and life propel this jazzy masterpiece into almost everyone’s Top 10. Often imitated but never matched, this is the kind of album that even impresses people who think they don’t like rap.

Nas – Illmatic (1994)
Perhaps the undisputed classic rap masterpiece. Expert beats and production from DJ Premier perfectly showcase the lyrical fury and on-point delivery of a young Nas on his incredible debut.

Gang Starr – Hard to Earn (1994)
A bit of a hidden gem here, though most hip-hop fans are down with Gang Starr (Guru and DJ Premier). They had several good albums, but this one is a real standout.

KRS-One – KRS-One (1995)
KRS-One probably deserves his own list collecting his Boogie Down Productions albums with his best solo stuff. Most lists usually have BDP’s By Any Means Necessary, and rightfully so. But this one is the true banger.

GZA/Genius – Liquid Swords (1995)
One of the first and best solo albums from the extended Wu-Tang Clan family. While it’s certainly hailed as a classic in the hip-hop community, this is the needle in the haystack that the masses have never heard of.

OutKast – Aquemini (1998)
The pre-cursor to their future classics like Stankonia and Speakerbox/Love Below, this one has all the elements and was so original and so perfectly executed by Andre 3000 and Big Boi. It not only put the South on the hip-hop map, it pushed the envelope of what rap music could be.

The Roots – things fall apart (1999)
It’s so hard to pick just one album from the Roots, and since their live show is so legendary, they aren’t usually found on lists of the best rap albums of all time, but they should be. “Illadelph Halflife,” “Game Theory,” the eclectic “Phrenology,” or raw “Do You Want More” could easily make this list. But “things fall apart” was hip-hop artistry from a band just hitting their stride.

Mos Def – Black on Both Sides (1999)
Mos Def’s collaboration with Talib Kweli (Black Star) could be in this spot, but Black on Both Sides gets the nod. It’s sprawling yet consistent, lyrically driven but very musical and textured. This is another great album that may have slipped through the cracks of the collective (un)consciousness.

Honorable Mentions:

N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton
Notorious B.I.G. – Ready to Die
Dr. Dre – The Chonic and Chronic 2001
Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP
Wu-Tang Clan – 36 Chambers
Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique
Black Star – Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black Star
Boogie Down Productions – Edutainment and By Any Means Necessary
Raekwon – Only Built for Cuban Linx (and pt 2)
Jay Z – The Blueprint
Run DMC – Raising Hell
EPMD – Strictly Business
Redman – Doc’s Da Name

The Best Albums of 2009

Posted in music, top 10 lists with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on Wednesday, 2009 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

It’s that time of year when self-absorbed bloggers and music geeks prepare their Top 10 Albums of the Year lists. Of course, the mainstream media trots out Beyonce and U2 while the hipsters try to out-obscure each other by only choosing albums by artists that no one has ever heard of. I guess I’m somewhere in between, so some of you will find my list a bit too mainstream (Pearl Jam, Jay-Z) while others of you will raise an eyebrow at the lesser-known stuff (Polvo? Magnolia who?).

Since I couldn’t narrow it down to just 10 albums, I cheated creatively by breaking it into categories plus two Top 10’s. It doesn’t matter. I think there are more albums on this list than there are readers of this blog.

Best Rock Album
Polvo – In Prism

Best Americana/Alt.Country Album
The Avett Brothers – I and Love and You

Best Hip-Hop Album
Raekwon – Only Built For Cuban Linx 2

Best Jazz Album
Allen Toussaint – The Bright Mississippi

Best Traditional R&B / Rockin Soul Party Album
Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears – Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is!

The Top 10 Albums

Them Crooked Vultures

The Dead Weather – Horehound

Mos Def – The Ecstatic

Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses – Roadhouse Sun

Sonic Youth – The Eternal

The Black Crowes – Before the Frost/Until the Freeze

Pearl Jam – Backspacer

Regina Spektor – Far

Jay Farrar and Ben Gibbard – One Fast Move Or I’m Gone: Music From Kerouac’s Big Sur

The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love

The Next 10 (this list goes up to 11!)

Patterson Hood – Murdering Oscar

KRS-One and Buckshot – Survival Skills

Magnolia Electric Co. – Joesphine

John Wesley Harding – Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead

Mars Volta – Octahedron

Wilco (the Album)

Eminem – Relapse

Ben Kweller – Changing Horses

Jay Z – Blueprint 3

Levon Helm – Electric Dirt

Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band – Outer South

Best Remaster/Reissue
The Beatles catalog 09.09.09

Best Re-imagined/Re-recorded Album
Stephen Marley – Mind Control (Acoustic)

Best Live Album
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – The Live Anthology

Best Collection of Outtakes/Unreleased Odds’n’ends
Drive-By Truckers – Fine Print

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